Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) released the following statement on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on wildland fire management and the Forest Service airtanker shortage:
“We applaud the Government Accountability Office (GAO) for its sensible recommendation that federal agencies must coordinate when updating their needs-based wildfire aircraft plans. A shared strategic vision should be developed and acted upon as rapidly as possible considering that the current large airtanker fleet has dropped from 44 aircraft in 2002 to about 8 this year.
“Nationwide, but especially in states like Arizona, the number and severity of wildfires is expected to increase. Therefore, it is vitally important that the Forest Service, in coordination with the Department of the Interior, articulate the current strategic posture of the airtanker fleet around the country. These agencies should work together to quickly establish the strategic requirement for air tankers nationwide, assess what combination of assets would best satisfy that requirement, and jointly determine how such a fleet should be most effectively deployed around the country to help ensure the protection of persons and property.
“The last thing we need is to study this issue indefinitely. There have already been 9 different studies on airtankers since 1995 and GAO notes it could be years before enough data is collected to fully analyze each aircraft’s performance capabilities. Americans deserve better than to hear that more research is needed while wildfires destroy their homes and firefighters risk their lives. Federal agencies need to implement options that improve our wildfire fighting capabilities immediately.”
Read the GAO report HERE.
GAO’s Key Findings on Forest Service Airtanker Shortage:
- The federal government’s large airtanker fleet has dropped from 44 aircraft in 2002 to about 8 this year.
- Since 1995, federal agencies have produced 9 different studies on airtankers with varying recommendations and conclusions about the right composition and size of the wildfire aircraft fleet.
- Forest Service needs to improve collaboration with aircraft vendors when planning its ratio of government-owned aircraft to private contractor aircraft.
- Federal agencies (Forest Service and the Department of the Interior) need to update and unify their existing modernization plans for entire air tanker fleet (including single engine aircraft, helicopters, medium airtankers, large airtankers, and very large airtankers).
- Federal agencies need to do a better job of recording missions and measuring the effectiveness of different types of aircraft in dropping retardant to help inform their modernization plans. GAO notes that the Forest Service says it could take multiple years and hundreds of missions in different terrain conditions to analyze each aircraft’s unique strengths and weaknesses.